Ambitious Summer Reading List: Cary Grant By Marc Eliot (2004)

We just got back from a week-long vacation and I’ve finished another book from the Ambitious Summer Reading List! First, I knocked out The Death-Bringers by Dell Shannon, then I finally finished Stephen King’s Desperation, I read all of Marc Eliot’s Cary Grant in about three days and I’m now nudging my way into Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll, but that’s a story for another post.

I decided to buy this bio on the Hollywood legend after reading George Hamilton’s fascinating autobiography a few years back. It’s been a while since I read that one, but I have this vague memory of Hamilton mentioning how Grant rode onto a golf course on a horse or something along those lines. It must have been enough to capture my curiosity, because I ordered the book…and then it sat in a box for several years.   Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: Cary Grant By Marc Eliot (2004)

Ambitious Summer Reading List: Desperation By Stephen King (1996)

Two down, fourteen to go! Considering summer only officially started a few days ago and I’ve got a few week long vacations in the offing, it’s almost looking like I’ll make it through a good number of these books! As I said when I wrote about Dell Shannon’s The Death-Bringers, I’d actually been reading Stephen King’s Desperation when I not only put this Ambitious Summer Reading List together, but also when I took a break to read through that much shorter police procedural. Why you ask? Because Desperation is a tough book to read for both good and bad reasons.

Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: Desperation By Stephen King (1996)

Ambitious Summer Reading List: The Death-Bringers By Dell Shannon (1964)

Well, I’m at it again. I’ve done more than a few of these Ambitious Reading List posts in the past and only gotten a few deep each time. So, this time around I decided to give myself even more books to read through! Worse yet, when I decided to start this little project I was already about halfway through Stephen King’s Desperation which is a very big book! Yesterday my son was sick with a stomach bug and I felt like switching gears in between making sure he had everything he needed, so I grabbed Dell Shannon’s The Death-Bringer‘s off the pile and actually read the whole thing in one day (possibly a first for this slow reader). Boy, that felt good! Continue reading Ambitious Summer Reading List: The Death-Bringers By Dell Shannon (1964)

Ambitious Reading List: The Loo Sanction by Trevanian

the loo sanctionHey look, I finished another book from my latest Ambitious Read List! Even though I just wrote about Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot last month, I can’t revel in this literary moral victory because I actually started this book…way too long ago. My father-in-law passed me this book along with its predecessor in the Jonathan Hemlock series The Eiger Sanction a few years ago and now I’m finally done with them (and wishing Trevanian had gotten around to writing a few more).

As this 1973 novel picks up Jonathan Hemlock is out of the sanction game until he’s framed by the British version of the shadowy organization he used to work for and blackmailed into infiltrating a sex club for the powerful in order to return some videos of politicians in compromising situations. Along the way he meets a wannabe Irish spy who he kinda sorta falls for, but she’s also wrapped up in some of these shenanigans so it gets a bit dicey.

So, why did it take me so long to read this book? Honestly, it’s a little boring in the offing. It also lacked that magic thing that keeps driving you on to read the next chapter. I don’t know what that is, but ‘Salem’s Lot had it and Loo Sanction just didn’t. At the same time, I like this character so I wanted to see where he wound up, so I kept returning to it every now and then and eventually got to the point where I was fully absorbed. There are also some particularly nasty moments in this book that were hard to get through and too much on many fronts. Supposedly this was written as a satire of the James Bond movies, but kitchen utensils never seemed so awful in a Bond film.

To go along with the satire threat, there was an element to this book that I picked up on that I didn’t see in the previous entry: it’s intentionally poking fun at the ridiculousness of rich and powerful people. Everyone with any kind of power in this novel also has some over-the-top trait which our hero bristles at because, even though he’s cultured and well-to-d0, he’s a kid from the streets at heart. For example, the Vicar who runs England’s sanction department winks like a maniac. Maxwell Strange, the man who runs the sex club, would be considered a health freak even by today’s standards and Amazing Grace is a surprisingly short woman who spends most of her time walking around naked. These might feel like odd traits at first — especially if you look at them through the frame of the Bond films — but after reading about more quirks than an episode of New Girl, I started to catch on.

At the end of the day, while this one didn’t exactly kick off with my interest, it certainly garnered it halfway through as I wound up reading the last 150 pages or so during flights to and from Indiana. Also, I assume if you’re a faster and more dedicated reader than I am, you’d get through the early parts faster and not dwell on them as I tend to.

Looking at the line-up for the Reading List, I’ve already 86ed the book of essays about comics and think I’m going to move on to either The Dante Club or the Freddy Krueger book because it’s almost fall and Halloween’s around the corner!

Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

salem's lot my copyI’m not doing very well with this summer’s Ambitious Reading List. I thought I’d finish The Loo Sanction, but it never quite grabbed me. I tried to start a few other books from the pile, but decided to put Stephen King’s The Dark Tower aside for another of his works: ‘Salem’s Lot.

I knew nothing about this book going in. I didn’t realize it was just his second novel after Carrie and I certainly didn’t know it was about vampires. I kind of wish I hadn’t read that bit of information, but it’s hardly a spoiler, though I was enjoying going into a book that’s been around for so long basically blind. Continue reading Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: The Shining (1977)

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Books were my first entry into the world of horror. At some point in grade school I started reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and then graduated to his more mature Fear Street series as well as Christopher Pike’s myriad of young adult offerings. At around 16 or 17, I moved from those into the seemingly more grown up world of horror movies, but somewhere in the transition phase, I read Stephen King’s The Shining. I can’t remember the exact timing, but sometime in high school I gave this book a read, saw parts of Stanley Kubrick’s film and viewed all or most of the 1997 TV adaptation starring Steven Weber from Wings.

So, when I decided to give the book another read as part of my Ambitious Halloween Reading List, I thought I’d have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the book. But, as I read I realized that my brain had a jumble of previously seen and read elements thanks to the above experiences — and the “Treehouse Of Horror” spoof from The Simpsons — and couldn’t remember what source the elements I remembered came from (as many of you probably know, Kubrick’s film took several departures from King’s original story). As it turned out, I actually remembered very little (possibly nothing) from my previous reading, which made the experience a lot more intense.

The story itself finds disgraced prep school teacher, former alcoholic and struggling writer Jack Torrance taking a winter caretaker job at a big hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. He’s had a rough go of things lately — partially because he beat the crap out of a student named George who slashed his tires — and feels like this is a last resort career-wise. He brings his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny along for the experience.

As it turns out, the hotel has a mysterious and dark past the includes a good deal of murder, death and other nefarious dealings. None of that would be so bad if Danny didn’t have the shining, an ability that allows him to read others’ minds, see parts of the future and communicate wordlessly with other people possessing the same ability like the hotel’s outgoing cook Dick Hallorann who explains some of the abilities and hotel-based creepiness to the young boy. The longer they stay in the place, the more it gets to Jack in an effort to absorb Danny’s powers. Danny sees gruesome phantoms of past violence, some of which start attacking him physically. But none of that compares to the fear that comes from his father Jack as he struggles to keep his sanity.ambitious halloween reading list 2013

I’ve mentioned this on the past two episodes of my parenting podcast The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, but reading this book as a father really added to the sense of dread that builds up. Anyone can relate to the idea of being penned in by an impending blizzard that will strand you on a mountain and how potentially scary that could be. But, I felt like I was able to tap into this story more for a few reasons now that I’m a dad. First, much as I hate to admit it, I can relate in some small way to some of the anger that comes from being a parent. Jack takes that to a whole different, awful level, but the best horror stories are the ones you can understand the basis of in your heart. Second, my love for my own kid makes it all the worse when Jack does start losing his cool, lets the hotel get into his brain and start going nuts. Seeing him devolve from a man on the mend to a beast-thing is a tough thing because I think many of us have the potential to fall from grace like that. And third, having a young child who is just starting to fear things, I can only image what it would be like for a person her or Danny’s age to try and process all of this insanity and the damage that might cause.

King did a great job of drawing a complicated, sympathetic and awful character in Jack Torrance. He’s a creative guy who came from a bad home and eventually created a solid life for himself. But, be it genetic, predestination or whatever, he gave in to the temptation of booze and his fiery temper which lead to several different problems for him. You want to simply write the character off, but it soon becomes clear that he could have had a fair shot if he hadn’t taken a job in a place filled with demons just waiting to wake his own up. He’s a beautifully composed tragic figure who you root for, but don’t let yourself believe he’ll fully overcome the Overlook.

I did have one question for fellow Shining readers. Are we to assume that Jack and Al, while on their last drunken joyride, hit George Hatfield’s bike? The night’s events are recounted to us, but then when Jack remembers coming upon George slashing his tires, the young man mentions something about a bike before Jack wails on him. Am I grasping at straws here or is this something that people have talked about before?

the shiningAnyway, I thought this was a great work of suspense and horror, though I don’t think I’m blowing any minds with that statement. I really enjoyed the book and feel pretty primed to check out the sequel Doctor Sleep. Also, I wanted to note that this is the first book that I’ve read completely on my Kindle. I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the method because it’s pretty light, easy to read (and customize) and you can simply tap a word if you’re not familiar with it. My only complaint is that I don’t know how deep into the book I am. The percentage given is cool, but it doesn’t let know how much you have left and I’m still not sure what the numbers at the bottom of the display mean, so I can’t accurately use that to gauge how much of a book I have left. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

The First Ambitious Halloween Reading List

ambitious halloween reading list 2013I knew I hadn’t been doing very well on the most recent Ambitious Reading List, but then I checked the blog and realized I started it back in November of last year and have only since read three and a half of the books. So, with Halloween in the offing, I figured it was about time to toss that one aside and start a brand new one, this time with more of a focus.

So, I now have nine books that I’m trying to read this month. It probably won’t happen because I’m a damn slow reader, but why not give it a shot, right? Here’s the basic rundown.

The Listeners by Christopher Pike. I was a huge fan of Pike’s young adult books as a kid and figured I’d give one of his adult titles a read. I actually stumbled upon this used book store purchase while looking for the next book in the pile, but it felt appropriate to check out this month.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. This is one of two re-reads on the pile this time around. I can’t remember the first time I read this book, probably late grade school or high school, but I’m curious to get back to it and then give the adaptation another watch.

The Shining by Stephen King. You might not be able to see my Kindle on the pile, but I assure you it’s there. I read this book in high school then lent it to a guy I worked with at the bagel shop when I was 16. He got fired and I never saw him again. So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given it a read. I will follow this one up by watching all of Kubrick’s film version FOR THE FIRST TIME! By the way, it’s only $4 for Kindle right now!

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey. This is the second Felix Castor novel from Carey. I used to interview him all the time for Wizard and really enjoyed the first installment The Devil You Know. The book explores a world where everyone knows ghosts exist and have to deal with them on a regular basis.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Since reading The Strain, I’ve actually been able to get my hands on the other two books in the series at Barnes & Noble for less than cover price of one book! I’m really curious to see where this story goes and hope to read all three installments before the TV show premieres.

The Dead Boy Detectives by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I read this Sandman spinoff series once before and am a big fan of Brubaker’s. While looking at my trade shelf, it seemed like a good fit for the theme.

Eerie Crime & Horror by Wally Wood. I fell in love with Wally Wood’s artwork after reading Weird Science Volume 2 and have been on the hunt for more of his work since then. I picked this book up earlier this year and figured now’s as good a time as any to finally read it (or possibly just scan it for the pretty pictures depending on how good the writing is).

Creepy Archives Volume 1. Featuring stories by some of the greatest artists in the comics business, I’ve been sitting on this book for years. It’s about darn time I finally sit down and have some fun with it.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke. No kidding, I have a whole shelf filled with coffee table books I’ve never read. This oral history of one of the all-time greatest slasher franchises is one of them and seemed like a good non-fiction entry in the list.

Alright gang, so here goes. Hopefully this stack o’ books will get read more efficiently than the other. I’m already working on two of them right now, so I’m thinking it won’t be too long before the first review goes up.

ARL3: I, Robot The Illustrated Screenplay By Harlan Ellison & Mark Zug

i robot harlan ellison isaac asimov I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot for the first time. After finishing that book and doing some reading, I came to understand that renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay that took the pieces of Asimov’s anthology and put them together with more of a through story, but it never got made. Reading a few more lines or paragraphs lead me to the realization that the script was made into a book with concept artwork by Mark Zug. After that I added I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay to my Amazon wish list and was lucky enough to get it for Christmas or my birthday, but it wound up taking quite a while for me to get around to it. I’m glad I added it to my third Ambitious Reading List because it got me to focus on this book that wound up being both a great story in and of itself, and a good introduction to Ellison (an author whose work I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with) and showed me how intricate and precise a screenplay can be.

Right away, I’ve got to say that this is not the easiest book to read. It’s in screenplay format which might be confusing if you’ve never read anything along those lines, but it’s also an incredibly dense screenplay packed with all kinds of jargon, some of which even I didn’t understand and I took a screenwriting class in college (though am in no way an expert). Also, since this is a futuristic story packed with all kinds of technology, you’re dealing with a lot of descriptions for ideas that might be hard to grasp at first. I found myself re-reading some  of the descriptions several times to get a good idea of what was going on. In those cases it helps to have Zug’s full color art in the center of the book and some of his sketches throughout the regular text.

Ellison’s tale revolves around Bratenahl, a reporter who finds himself driven by the idea of interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose work helped usher in the robot revolution that advanced humanity throughout the cosmos. At first he’s just covering a funeral and encounters the mysterious woman who most people would describe as cold and ultra-scientific, but he sees something else there. Encouraged by his editor to keep digging, Bratenahl winds up becoming obsessed with his quarry and her hidden story. That drive leads him to various locations all over the galaxy — teleportation is common place — which brings him in contact with people who tell him tales of Calvin, those stories are all found in Asimov’s book. The screenplay incorporates “Robbie,” “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Evidence” as well as elements from the other tales.

I’m glad that I took a few years between reading the source material and digging into this adaptation because it was still able to surprise me. As I got into the first flashback sequence, some of the synapses in my memory started firing and I could remember little bits and pieces of what was possibly coming, but not everything altogether. I also kept remembering elements from the other stories and wondering if they would pop up, which added another layer of mystery and wonder to the proceedings.

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Screenwriting is a form of writing that I’ve always been interested in and a format that I thought I knew pretty well before seeing how freaking amazing Ellison is at it. I’ve read things like Kevin Smith’s scripts as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Christopher McQuarrie’s original The Usual Suspects screenplays and while those use the format to convey the story, the way that Ellison so completely understands the form and how to move the camera is just mind-blowing. So if you’re interested in seeing how well executed a screenplay can be while also getting in on a piece of sci-fi goodness that really needs to get made — I picture it as an animated movie, someone start a Kickstarter! — give I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay a look.

As far as the ARL3 goes, I’ve got to admit, I was struggling there for a while. Even with branching out to read Al Capp and The Totally Sweet 90s, it’s taken me a pathetic seven months to get through three books and realize that Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap just isn’t for me (at least right now). I’ve even started working on my next pile which has a few more books that I’m really interested in reading, but finishing the I, Robot screenplay has inspired me to stick with this one and see how things go. I’ve already moved on to Hunger Games which I’m about 60 pages deep into. It’s a pretty quick and easy read so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.

ARL3: Raiders! By Alan Eisenstock

Raiders by Alan EisenstockLike a lot of people, I heard about the Raiders Of The Lost Ark fan film made by a bunch of kids in the 80s. I don’t remember the exact details, but it would have been sometime in college. I even wrote a little bit about it for a huge never-published article my pal Rickey Purdin and I put together for a Wizard movie issue (I should check my files and see if I have a copy of it anywhere). I thought it was cool, but never saw it or thought much more about it. Then I saw Son Of Rambow, a British film that seems to take many of the ideas of the true story, switched the movie to First Blood — which I  incidentally just watched again recently — and made a film I fell in love with. There’s something so amazing about the youthful drive to make something, especially when it took so many years and involved so much work. Again, the Raiders fan film left my consciousness again for a while.

Until I got an email a few months back about a book documenting the making of the movie. Would I like a copy? Hell yes, send it over! I wanted to jump into it right away, but a lot of things got in the way. I wish it hadn’t because Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is a fantastic, magical book. Knowing the broad strokes of this story really isn’t enough, it deserves the intense level of research that Eisenstock surely did to get such amazing results.

The Raiders fan film was created by director Eric Zala and star Chris Stromopolos, two kids from Mississippi who loved a movie and decided to remake it. They banded together with several friends and friends of friends and over the course of seven years, shot and edited the film. It was amazing reading how they figured out every shot of the movie, developed storyboards (which I’d like to see, actually), scrounged allowance to buy props, raised local awareness and struggled to find locations to match the film. All that makes the story epic, but that’s only half the story.

In addition to being a story about the making of a film, Raiders is also the story of a pair of kids who become friends, dedicate themselves to a project, both falter, grow up and hit a rough spot before SPOILER rekindling their relationship several times and eventually having their movie discovered and loved by people all over the country. There’s a few chapters in the book after they finish filming the movie. At that point I was like, “What more could happen?” And then, bam, you’re hit with some intense, real world drama, the kind that hits a lot of people. These guys went through a lot of crap, lived together, went their separate ways, built families and eventually became creative partners again. Chris especially had it tough, while Eric used his steadfastness to excel in the video game industry.

The beauty of this story is how theatrical it is. Just when everything seems lost at one point, the boys get word that they can shoot a scene on a dry-docked submarine. Boom, they’re back in it. There’s so many ups and downs like that that you almost forget your reading a biography and have drifted into fiction territory. Eisenstock does a wonderful job of weaving these tales together, taking Chris and Eric’s detailed memories and putting together a narrative that might hold a few things back for dramatic purposes, but always pays off. Well, almost always pays off.

arl3My only complaint about this book is that it didn’t finish one important storyline: Eric and Chris’ in-the-works screenplay. The last section of the book makes a point of the two reuniting to work on something creatively, but then leaves off in 2005.  What happened?! Did they write a screenplay? My quick IMDb search shows that Zala doesn’t have any more credits past his student film, so I’m guessing it never got made, but did they at least finish writing it? Not following up on that one thread seemed odd, especially considering the book came out last year and could have done some kind of follow-up in the eight years between the end of the book and it’s publication. I had a similar problem with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pusher which didn’t go into detail when it came to the band’s break-up. If you’re going to go into huge detail about this story, you’ve got to deliver on the important final moments or at the very least,  catch us up on what they’re currently up to.

But, that’s a small complaint. There’s so much goodness in this book, so much that got me fired up both as a fan of things and a wannabe creator of things, that it’s really a minor quibble. I really can’t express how much I loved this book. It made me want to create things, it made me want to be a bigger fan of things and it made me wish I had had more of a creative spark when I was younger. I can’t recommend this book any higher, it’s amazing and deserves to be read by anyone even remotely interested in film or fandom. Read it!

As far as the latest Ambitious Reading List, I’ve definitely stalled out a bit. I started reading Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap, but it really didn’t grab me. I think I’ll read something else and then maybe go back to it and see if I find something in there. I’ve got another book sent to me by PR folks that’s not on the list, but should be read pretty quickly. Seems like the right thing to do.